Friday, February 23, 2007

Hotel issue looms large in TDR debate

Express Staff Writer

Designs of the proposed Bald Mountain Lodge on Ketchum?s Main Street show a five-story hotel. Developer Steve Burnstead says five floors is the only way to make the project viable, but the city is reluctant to allow such height at the city?s gateway. Graphic courtesy Callison Architects and Bald Mountain LLC.

The Ketchum City Council on Tuesday held a public hearing on the transfer of development rights system, which includes as a peripheral issue the potential for hotels to exceed the current three-story maximum by two floors.

The hotel issue, however, upstaged the debate about the TDR system.

"I'm sitting here listening to this, and I'm getting talked out of doing a hotel," said developer Brian Barsotti, who has tentative plans to build a hotel in Warm Springs Village. "There's going to have to be some help here. It's scary doing a hotel. I'm thinking, I don't need this (problem)."

At issue is how and where to apply the TDR system.

TDRs allow owners of existing smaller buildings to sell development rights to other buildings. The idea is to maintain part of Ketchum's existing inventory of small-scale, historic and heritage structures, while at the same time allowing for increased density in other, more appropriate areas of town to accommodate growth.

But where is "appropriate?"

The city is in the process of designating certain sites in town as "sending areas" that can sell development rights and others as "receiving areas" that can buy them. Properties in receiving areas could buy up to one additional floor of height beyond the currently allowable three-floor maximum.

Recent city ordinance changes allow hotels that are 100 percent guestrooms and not residences or fractional units to build to four floors. This was done as an incentive to hotel development, which is seen as key in boosting tourism, nightlife and economic activity in Ketchum.

If the revised TDR system is approved, which was on the agenda for a City Council meeting Thursday after the Express' deadline, some hotels would be able to buy an extra floor through TDRs, enabling them to build to five stories.

Developer Steve Burnstead has recently proposed such a building on Main Street at the former Bald Mountain Lodge site at the city's southern entrance. Because his project may include a residential component, it would not automatically be granted that fourth floor.

On Tuesday, the City Council indicated it was not inclined to include that site on eligible properties for a fifth floor. The reasons they cited were the topography of the land—the property is at the top of an incline and would be one of the first things people see when driving into town—and the location on Main Street, which the city feels should maintain a quaint, small-scale feel.

The majority of meeting attendees, however, said in order to court hotels and the benefits they would provide the city, restrictions on their height should be eased, and the playing field should be evened.

"I think it's important that all potential hotel sites be treated the same," said Ed Lawson, an attorney speaking on behalf of Burnstead. "You ought not to legislate yourself out of that flexibility. I understand they are considered to be sensitive sites, but there are a lot of sensitive sites. Let the design review process ... work with the applicant."

City officials, though, are hesitant to let some projects proceed in the design review process if they're unlikely to approve them in the end; the process can be years-long and cost millions of dollars.

Councilwoman Terry Tracy disagreed with Lawson, saying there are several factors in deciding what projects should go where.

"I can't treat all properties the same," she said. "I'm looking at different topography ... I know what is near and dear to me and what I think is near and dear to a lot of people. I will not sell the heart and soul of Ketchum—Main Street—to anyone."

Ketchum resident Peter Everett questioned that street's standing.

"I don't understand why Main Street is so sacrosanct," he said. "It's basically a bunch of ... banks."

Karen Reinheimer, whose family gave up development rights on 114 acres of farmland at the southern entrance to Ketchum, pleaded for smaller-scale development.

She said the reason more people weren't in attendance to oppose taller buildings is because they've given up hope.

"There's a sense of betrayal that this City Council is going to four floors," she said.

Councilman Baird Gourlay said much of his concern about five-story hotels on Main Street has to do with traffic issues.

"Circulation is one of my higher concerns," he said.

Councilman Ron Parsons lamented the fact that the TDR discussion was hijacked by the height debate, especially on one lot.

"What we have to do is balance the wants and needs of the community," he said.

Barsotti expressed frustration about the pace of progress.

"A lot of us thinking about hotels don't have a clue where you're going," he said. "If we don't get in the ground this summer, it's going to be three years before you get (more) hotel rooms."

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